STP is a synthetic hallucinogen whose chemical name is 2, 5-Dimethoxy-4-methylamphetamine – often referred to as DOM (STP is the drug’s street name and stands for Serenity, Tranquillity and Peace). Like more well known hallucinogens, such as LSD and Magic Mushrooms, STP induces an altered state of mind in users known as a ‘trip’.
The chemical is entirely man-made and was first synthesised by renowned ‘counterculture’ chemist and pharmacologist, Alexander Shulgin. Shulgin is often referred to as the ‘Godfather of Ecstasy’ for his scientific and often personal experimentation with MDMA. He also actively worked to create new chemicals which could be used for psychedelic experiences in conjunction with legitimate work for the DOW Chemical company, and STP (DOM) was one such result.
Shulgin first synthesized the drug in 1964, partially basing his work around the chemical structure of Mescaline, a psychedelic substance derived from the Peyote cactus. He described the synthesis of the drug and the subjective results of testing it on himself, along with many other chemicals, in the infamous book PIHKAL (‘Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved’). His documented experiences with the drug ranging from euphoria and increased sensitivity to colours, to vivid hallucinations and frightening delusions.
Shulgin experimented with doses between 1-12mg (the latter being judged by him as far too high). However, in 1967 in San Francisco, during the height of the ‘summer of love’ DOM tablets bearing the name STP emerged on the street, and these contained 20mg of active ingredient. This high dose, combined with delays in the drug taking effect (and extra doses being taken) led to a large number of non-fatal overdoses in which the users had terrifying experiences which left them panicked and in search of emergency medical attention.
STP was made illegal in the US in 1973, and many governments around the world followed suit.
The effects of STP are similar to LSD and trigger a range of psychedelic effects when taken. These include hallucinations, euphoria, distorted perceptions and cognitions, and delusional states of mind.
There is little data available on current usage trends of STP/ DOM, but it is thought to be made available on the street by illegal laboratories and small-scale ‘home chemists’.
STP stands for Serenity, Tranquillity and Peace, and is the street name of the synthetic drug DOM (2,5 Dimethoxy-4-Methylamphetamine).
The name STP is thought to have emerged during the drug’s first major appearance in 1960’s San Francisco. At this time few people realised that the drug referred to as STP was in fact DOM, and this led to further problems in treating overdoses. Those who were overdosing on STP were given Thorazine in the emergency room – a standard treatment for LSD overdoses, but one which simply enhanced the potent effects of DOM.
Alternative explanations of the acronym STP include Stop the Police and Super Terrific Psychedelic. Alexander Shulgin himself relates that police during the ‘hippie era’ often referred to it as Too Stupid to Puke.
The letters STP are also used to denote a popular brand of fuel oil additive in the US, leading some to believe that the two were related, but this was never the case.
As a hallucinogenic drug, STP induces a variety of psychological and physiological effects which constitute a ‘trip’. The exact effects can vary widely according to the strength of dose taken and the individual, but commonly include visual and auditory hallucinations, heightened perception of colours, textures etc, feelings of euphoria and other psychedelic effects in common with drugs like LSD and Mescaline.
One of the major risks of taking STP/ DOM is that the user will take too much. The drug is relatively rare, and people who are more familiar with LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs may unwittingly take an amount which is many times an active dose. Because the drug’s effects have a slow onset period of 1-2 hours, it is also not uncommon for an individual to take an extra dose in the belief that the drug is not ‘working’ during this period. There have been no reports of fatal overdoses, but those who have an overdose of STP commonly become panicked, increasingly anxious and in some cases temporarily psychotic. Some scientific literature suggests that overdose may also result in convulsions and toxic reactions, leading to death.
As with other psychedelics, individuals may also experience a ‘bad trip’ while on the drug, encompassing negative and unpleasant hallucinations, intense anxiety, delusions and paranoia. They may also believe that they are going crazy or about to die.
While under the influence of the drug, the individual will be less able to respond to their surroundings in an appropriate way. They can be highly prone to accidental injury or misadventure, and users who are not familiar with hallucinogenic drugs may take dangerous actions based on drug-induced delusions and hallucinations.
STP/ DOM is an entirely synthetic drug created in a laboratory, and was synthesized for the first time by Alexander Shulgin in 1964, while working for DOW Chemical. Shulgin created it based around existing psychedelic drugs known in nature, such as Mescaline, with the intention of creating a drug for psychedelic use and the possible treatment of mental illness. However, as the Sixties progressed, legitimate scientific experimentation with hallucinogens fell out favour, and the drug was never released or manufactured in mainstream channels.
For the first few years that the drug was known about there were no laws governing its manufacture or possession, so it was produced by knowledgeable chemists in labs such as Shulgin’s. In the US, STP was made illegal to distribute in 1968, but remained legal for personal use. In 1973 it was made illegal altogether and designated as a Schedule I drug.
This drove production underground, and little data is available as to specific locations where manufacture of STP is currently prevalent. It is however likely that the drug is produced in illegal drug laboratories in North America, Europe and elsewhere in the developed world. It may be produced by organised criminals alongside other synthetic drugs such as MDMA (Ecstasy) and so-called ‘designer drugs’. It is also possible that it may be manufactured in smaller quantities by independent chemists working from home labs.
Once manufactured, supplies of DOM are likely to be sold to mid-level dealers, smuggled across borders if necessary, and then sold to street dealers, as is the case with most synthetic illicit drugs. The drug is relatively rare but may be bought on the street as an off-white powder, or pressed into tablet form.
Like most hallucinogenic drugs, there is no evidence to suggest that STP/DOM is physically addictive in the same way that other Class A drugs such as Heroin and Cocaine are. However it can result in a profound psychological addiction which has far-reaching consequences across all aspects of an individual’s life and mental wellbeing.
In many cases, addictive behaviour surrounding STP use will most likely be a more generalised psychological addiction to a broad spectrum of psychedelic drugs, which may also include LSD, Magic Mushrooms, Mescaline and a range of other synthetic ‘designer’ hallucinogens.
While under the influence of STP the individual may appear to be ‘not with it’ and they may respond to external stimuli which are not really there. They may seem intrigued by seemingly mundane and everyday objects, and spend some time examining colours, textures and other sensations. They may also appear delusional or even anxious and paranoid.
Frequent users may appear to be increasingly losing touch with reality. They may show little interest in things that previously interested them, and fail to attend to important matters which require their attention. In some cases they might act out delusional fantasies, or display other signs of mental imbalance.
Small tablets may be found in their belongings, though discerning these as STP specifically may be difficult. The drug may also be found in the form of a whitish powder in a bag or wrapped up in clingfilm. Other signs of more generalised psychedelic drug abuse may be ‘blotters’ of acid with colourful pictures on them, vials of liquid or dried mushrooms.
Because STP is not known to create a physical chemical dependency, there are generally few side effects from ceasing use, and detox can be done safely without the need for any substitute chemicals or special treatment. However, in some cases, the psychological aftermath of long term STP use may be more difficult to deal with.
Because STP is a relatively rare drug and is more often than not just one part of an illicit psychedelic drug habit, there are no specific treatment programmes for dealing with it. Instead a more holistic approach may be taken that treats the psychological addiction to psychedelic drugs in general, and deals with the consequences of their abuse.
Because there are no substantial physical withdrawals from STP, it is not necessary for the individual to enter rehabilitation centre for detox and treatment. In some cases however, where profound mental disturbance and impairment has occurred, this may be advisable or desirable.
Once the individual has admitted that they have a problem with drug use, the first step is to cease this use of STP and other illicit chemicals. Except in cases where opiates or other chemically addictive drugs are also involved, this can generally be done straight away, with no need to taper off dosage or use.
Despite the lack of physical dependency, the psychological relationship that the user has with STP and other hallucinogens can be substantial. Particularly in the early stages of treatment, they may have intense mental cravings to ‘take a trip’ by ingesting STP or another substance.
Treatment will generally focus on the psychological nature of the drug habit. Talking therapies and counselling sessions may seek to root out the primary reasons for the individual’s drug use, and to identify the triggers which compel them to ‘escape’ from everyday reality. Behaviour modification therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) may then help them to deal with these triggers which may cause relapse, and encourage them to develop new healthy alternative behaviours.
Support groups with individuals who are recovering from similar addictions can also help by fostering a sense of community, and by providing an additional avenue for much-needed emotional support during the recovery process.
Some individuals who have been abusing psychedelic drugs in large quantities over long periods of time may require more specialist psychiatric help to enable them to return to normal functioning. They may have difficulties adjusting to both their experiences while on the drugs, and the relative normality of a drug-free life. It is not known if ‘flashbacks’ ( a sudden mental reoccurrence of a ‘trip’, months or years after use) occur due to STP use, but these have been linked to use of other psychedelic drugs such as LSD, and may be disturbing for the patient.
In addition to this, people who already have latent mental illnesses and personality disorders may have these triggered by psychedelic drug use. In these instances, diagnosis and appropriate treatment by a mental health professional is necessary.